Haslam's Ed Reform Program Ambushed

What do you get when liberal urban Democrats and conservative rural and suburban Republicans team up against an issue and ignore the committee system, the leadership, and the governor? You get an 88-vote thumping in the state House of Representatives to stop Common Core and its testing program in its tracks. It was one of the weirdest days at the Legislature in recent memory.

State Rep. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville, is chair of the House Education Committee and has been the point man for Gov. Bill Haslam's education reform agenda. Brooks and the governor's staff had managed to gather up all the anti-Common Core bills this session and safely tuck them away in a committee to avert any mischief.

Then along came a little bill with an education caption, sponsored by state Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, that had already passed the Senate. It requires the teaching of Tennessee history and the U.S. Constitution. When House sponsor state Rep. Timothy Hill brought it to the floor for a vote, anti-Common Core forces jumped on it with both feet. There was an ambush as Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, with help from conservative Republicans, significantly amended the bill on the floor—not unprecedented but certainly rare—bypassing the committee system.

The bill passed with amendments putting Common Core and its testing program on hold for two years by a vote of 88-11. The biggest bloc of votes supporting Haslam and Common Core included those from the governor's home town: Republican legislators Ryan Haynes, Roger Kane, Bill Dunn, and Brooks. Republican Steve Hall and Democrat Gloria Johnson voted for the halt.

Haslam and Common Core supporters spent this week scrambling to derail the derailment.